To Vote Or Not To Vote


TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE…

I wrote this piece several elections ago, but it seems even more pertinent now than it was then. I have to confess, I originally wrote it mainly because I knew my son would read it. Ever since he’s attained the age granting him the franchise to vote, he has, to my knowledge, never exercised this right. Nor is he alone. The United States has one of the lowest voter turnouts amongst the democratic societies of this planet. To many of us, this is no startling revelation.

You could easily make the case that our level of voting apathy, combined with the ignorance, shortsightedness and provincialism of many of those who vote, are the reasons we can find so many of our politicians embodying the same traits. How else to explain former governor Kneip of South Dakota, when he was appointed as ambassador to Singapore declaring he had never heard of Gandhi. William Scott, ex-senator from Virginia, was called the dumbest senator in Congress by a magazine with limited circulation. He called a press conference to deny the charge. Or my favorite, ex-senator Roman Hruska’s comment that “there are a lot of mediocre people, and they are entitled to a little representation.” I don’t know any political reporter who would defend the position that today’s bunch in Washington is any more impressive.

In the postmortem of each election, the talking heads on the tube bemoan the apathy of the voters. Voting is good; apathy is bad. Some, however, would question this analysis. They make the argument that democracy in our country doesn’t work because too many of our voters are ignorant or too ill informed on the issues. Politicians are able to blurt sound bites like “military preparedness” or “Communism” or “soft-on-crime” and legions of voters follow like lemmings over the edge. When people don’t even know enough to follow their own self-interest, the system can’t work in the way it was designed to function.

The solution in a Utopian world would have all voters pass some type of uniform test, discriminating against no one, except those who had no knowledge whatsoever of any of the issues being contested. Some of us, imbued with civic class idealism, would argue that this is heresy, that suffrage is an inalienable right, that such a policy would go against what the Founding Fathers had intended.

Actually, the framers of the Constitution precisely intended a meritocracy, which is why they limited the franchise to those who owned land. In 1789, land ownership went hand in hand with a knowledge of public affairs. Matters went awry with the introduction of extended suffrage. That’s what had Mark Twain say of the nation’s politicians, “They are all crooks – and why? Because of universal suffrage. How, I ask you, can you have a country when every idiot male of twenty-one or more can vote?”

Realities dictate that there will not soon be any fundamental changes in our country’s political system. This leaves many of us utterly frustrated, our choices seemingly limited to supporting candidates for whom we have no respect or supporting no one at all. For those of us who have not been able to summon any enthusiasm for any political candidate since JFK, and who have by the legions opted out of the system altogether, the sad truth is that the results of the current State of the Union can be laid at our feet. Many now concede that politics in our country is largely a matter of cutting losses. It probably is as naïve at this point in time to expect honesty from our politicians as it is to expect originality of thought. Any positive change that will occur in our system will happen only by small increments.

The likelihood that changes for the better will only come slowly, and with great effort may well be the crux of our problem. For many of us in the post-war generation, given so much by our parents that we came to expect instant gratification as our birthright, perseverance remains a faintly amusing concept, like steadfastness or staunchness – words that seem to come from a bygone era.

That’s why I have so much admiration and respect for all those who have continued to work for those few candidates whose open expression of ideas and clear-cut stands on issues doomed their campaigns to fail before the onslaught of slick voter manipulation by cookie cutter manufactured spokesman of well funded issue groups. There still are Quixotic groups of people, going door to door, calling voters, attempting to explain issues, and supporting those who work in service of the odd belief that a politician should represent the interests and belief of the both the constituents, as well as the good of the country. I know of one such individual, still soldiering on, doing his part to make a change for the better in a district where the likelihood of his success appears to be insanely poor. I asked him, “Don’t you get discouraged? How do you keep doing this after all your disappointments?” He smiled, “I keep doing this because of all our old slogans, only one still makes sense today – ‘If your not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’”

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Perspective


Travel provides a perspective – what we find, what we left behind. It’s Monday, so it must be time for another poem to continue this theme. Hope you are all surviving the vicissitudes of this pandemic life.

perspective

home for most feels large,

full of the owned accumulation of a past.

friends, relations orbit

(beloved Moon, uncle Pluto in Baltimore)

exerting tidal forces, streaking the sky according to importance,

the self enjoying Copernican  pride of place.

slip away

like a leaf drops to a stream,

become one bit bobbing anonymous,

bumping against detritus in the flow.

though a few neighbors

note the absence of a single leaf,

the tree still stands.

the discovery

of what one is and needs,

the list so basic essential,

a blueprint

clear uncompromising as thin ice

for building concrete from abstraction –

freedom.

p. ferenczi

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What Should I Do With My Life?


What Should I Do With My Life?

We are living through hard times, perhaps the hardest that many of us have experienced.  It is during times like these that people are most likely willing to change the course of their lives. In good times, they frequently only talk about change; hard times force them to overcome doubts that otherwise gives them pause.

Regardless whether you are young, middle aged or at the end of a career, if you haven’t seriously considered the existential question that is the title of this piece, you owe it to yourself to do so now. Some of us ponder this question seriously when it comes time to make choices regarding careers, marriage, children, spiritual beliefs; others seem to fall into grooves created by parents, immediate circumstances, or following the lead of a friend or mentor. It isn’t until later in life that they begin to question – is what I’m doing now really what I want to be doing? Is this path that I’m on giving me fulfillment, making me happy?

For any of you who have considered this question before, or are doing so now, I have a strong recommendation. Read the book “What Should I Do With My Life” by Po Bronson (Random House, 2003). The author has written a remarkable book consisting of interviews with 56 people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who provide their personal stories of how they answered this most important question for themselves. The lessons they offer us are varied and affecting. Some stories have happy endings, some do not. All are honest, freed of sentimentality and cliché. Some I found inspiring, some fascinating, and a few cautionary. I have re-read these stories many times, and each time I walk away from the book feeling energized and hopeful. Po says the true search is for what you believe in – what kind of world you want to live in. Happiness is too easy of a test; rather we should ask what will be fulfilling for us. For some searchers, happiness becomes a byproduct when they find something worthwhile to which they can devote their lives.

I have found that the changes that have occurred in my life have come from people I have met, and books I have read. This is definitely one of those books. (Disclosure: I have no personal affiliation with the author or Random House.)

Posted in America, Books and Literature, Children, Dating, Family, Happiness, Health and wellness, Marriage, Religion, Thoughts & Musings | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Childhood Disappointment


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Quarantine Humor


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Across the Water


It’s Monday morning, and time for another poem in the Map series on travel and discovery. When we leave home, we find new vistas to capture our imagination with their novelty. More importantly, we discover about that which is inside of us, finally having a chance to listen to that all important inner voice that often gets lost in the cacophony of our daily lives.

across the water

been on the road a while now.

landed on the edge of the final edge,

a beach, empty,

clouded sky backlit by unseen sinking sun.

wind scatters the cold sand,

dunes it around driftwood and rotting seaweed.

a palette of grays and browns.

I look across the water with closed eyes,

casting a line into memory.

a tug as the hook sets six thousand miles away.

the catch: a glistening day,

another beach on another sea,

the breeze cool, the sun warm.

I walk with a lifelong friend and his wife-to-be.

then it was the sun I basked in,

now they are the heat I feel through my jacket.

the wind kicks up,

the line snaps.

my catch slips away

leaving only a few gleaming scales to fade.

I turn to the path that leads to a bedroom

in a town of strangers.

one foot in front of the other.

p. ferenczi

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Children and Money


What is any parent’s goal in raising their child? Ideally, you want them to grow up with a strong sense of values, to be kind and caring, to be responsible, to be capable of both giving and receiving love, to be curious, to be capable of wonder and appreciative of beauty, to be independent and free thinking. A big part of being independent involves preparing your children to become free of your financial support, and to be able to function autonomously in our society. This essay is about achieving financial independence, and the barriers that stand in its way..

 Being an immigrant to America at a young age, I had various paying jobs since I was fourteen. I was taught early on to save a part of my money for future needs, and not to rely on credit except when absolutely necessary, such as in the purchase of a house. Of necessity, my education was funded through scholarships, as well as low cost government loans when I went to medical school. My parents contributed what they could for my meals and living expenses. I was grateful for what they gave me, and never expected more. I looked forward to the time when I could be earning enough to provide for all my own needs without relying on any support from them. Most of the young people with whom I went to school had a similar desire to establish their independence.

Times have changed. Attitudes have changed even more. Discussions around the family table regarding topics such as the purpose and value of money has become increasingly rare, in no small part due to the decrease in the frequency of family meals, where everyone is together at the same time has diminished, being relegated only to major holidays.

In our current time, it’s not unusual to find people in their twenties or even thirties relying on parental support to pay for personal expenses, even if they no longer live under the same roof, even if they have jobs that pay them a salary. Parents, especially those who are relatively well off, have a difficult time weaning their children off the family payroll. Perhaps they feel guilty for having worked long hours amassing their own wealth that they didn’t spend enough time with their kids, or they see their peers behaving the same way with their children, or they never bothered to set up the expectations in their own children as to when they need to make their own way in the world. Whatever the reason, I see a number of people whose children continue to rely on them for financial support way beyond the late teens or early twenties, which was the norm back in the sixties.

Certainly, schools have become much more expensive, and it’s not unusual to find students graduating with six figure loans the size of a house mortgage. This becomes especially difficult when no one explained to them that a major in English or Art History is unlikely to result in a job that will pay sufficiently well to pay off large loans as well as provide for the basics of food and rent. (This is not to suggest that these subjects are not important or worthwhile goals; only that taking out massive loans should be weighed against the reality of the pay afforded by various majors in the marketplace.) Career counseling needs to be an important job of both parents as well as schools.

Next comes the disconnect which our society has established between the ease of spending money and the ease of earning it. Paying for a purchase with a credit card or your phone takes but a second. Studies have repeatedly shown that people spend more in a store when they pay with credit than when they pay with cash. There is a great deal lost when you never had to perform hard labor to earn a dollar, and therefore fail to appreciate and properly value the money you have. You forget your jacket in the park playing with your friends. No worries – the folks will buy you a new one.  And when the time comes to move out, you expect to maintain the life style you had when living at home, not knowing or appreciating that you parents worked for a long time and didn’t achieve their current standard of living until you were quite older. You expect that the Bank of Mom or Dad will be there to continue to pay your car insurance, your Netflix use, cellphone (after all, you are a on a family plan), or perhaps even your credit card with all those Starbucks charges.

There is no question that for those who are finishing school now, the job market is dismal, and millions are suffering economic hardships. In times of crisis, it’s normal and appropriate for families to help each other when they can. The problem comes when parents don’t train their children for the reality that the world has always been a difficult place, and give them the tools to deal with the hardships when they occur. Not teaching them the value of money and savings, along with the benefits and rewards of hard work is a failure in their parental duties. Parents need to set a good example to their children in avoiding impulse buying, setting and following a budget, and above all, using debit instead of credit cards for all but the most major of emergencies, then paying off the debt as quickly as possible. Too many American families live mired in debt, paying usurious rates to finance companies.

Children should be given chores with the expectation that they perform them well. They should receive an allowance, not as a payment for chores, which is their contribution to being part of the family. (I confess – I didn’t do a good job of this with my own.) They should receive an allowance to teach them how to handle and value money. Financial literacy should be as important part of a child’s education as writing, reading and arithmetic. As the children grow older, parents should make clear in advance at what point in time financial support will gradually phase out to allow appropriate planning for the future. Shielding your kids from the consequences of their actions, not allowing them to fail, results in pathologic dependency destructive to children.

Parents want to do their very best for their offspring. That is only normal. Depriving them of the satisfaction of earning their own way by providing for their every financial need destroys their motivation to achieve of all that they are capable, and prevents them from maturing into adults who will be properly able to raise their own children.

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Alone


I see them in my office, their look slightly haunted by the memories of having been here before, though not alone. Their fingers absent-mindlessly trace the circle of their wedding band, as we talk not about their own illness, but about the struggle of getting up each day in a house grown bleak by absence. We talk about family, their church, support groups for the bereaved. They tell me how they all of a sudden look up from a book, wanting to read aloud the passage that struck them, and realizing, again, that the person who shared their days and nights all these years is no longer there. After each encounter like this, I come home and give my love an extra hard hug and a kiss, having been reminded once more how ephemeral our lives are, and how each moment of shared happiness is such a great gift. Loss is an inevitable part of our lives. Memories may help to sustain us, though the bittersweet price is the painful longing for the one we can no longer touch. The following poem speaks to this struggle.

Alone

i’m trying to follow your wishes

work hard

find something you love to do

and just go for it

we had plans

the future before the diagnosis

art and painting for me

politics for you.

but after five months

the artist brushes are heavy

they seem stuck in rubber cement and

moving them around the canvas

to put the paint down

became difficult.

i’m sure you’d say just push through

don’t get lost in your head.

easy words for you

i was there

when your screams reverberated through the city in the middle of the night

i was there

to hold you, to give you kisses

to whisper hope in your ear

yes you had plenty of friends and they were all very encouraging

but I was there

when death leaned hard and

you struggled to keep him hidden from friends and family

you’re not here now

to help me

when I could really use your hugs and whispers

to carry me along

and lighten the brushes

brighten the days

erase the clouds

when emptiness heaps up and

rushes over me

in an avalanche of loneliness.

Frank DeCicco

Posted in America, Death and Dying, Family, Happiness, Health and wellness, Loneliness, Marriage, Medicine, Poetry, Thoughts & Musings | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Dear Abby Stumpers


For those of us who need an injection of humor at this particular point in our lives, I offer the following: (for my non-American readers, Dear Abby was a popular syndicated advice column for many years in newspapers throughout the United States.)

Dear Abby Stumpers.
 
The following are actual letters that Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) admitted she was at a total loss to answer:

Dear Abby,
A couple of women moved in across the hall from me. One is a middle-aged gym teacher, and the other is a social worker in her mid twenties .These two women go everywhere together, and I’ve never seen a man go into their apartment or come out. Do you think they could be Lebanese?

Dear Abby,
What can I do about all the sex, nudity, language and violence on my VCR?

Dear Abby,
I have a man I never could trust. He cheats so much I’m not even sure this baby I’m carrying is his.

Dear Abby,
I am a twenty-three-year-old liberated woman who has been on the pill for two years. It’s getting expensive, and I think my boyfriend should share half the cost, but I don’t know him well enough to discuss money with him.

Dear Abby,
I suspected that my husband had been fooling around, and when I confronted him with the evidence he denied everything and said it would never happen again. Should I believe him?

Dear Abby,
Our son writes that he is taking Judo. Why would a boy who was raised in a good Christian home turn against his own?

Dear Abby,
I joined the Navy to see the world. I’ve seen it. Now, how do I get out?

Dear Abby,
My forty-year-old son has been paying a psychiatrist $50.00 an hour every week for two-and-a-half years. He must be crazy.

Dear Abby,
Do you think it would be all right if I gave my doctor a little gift? I tried for years to get pregnant and couldn’t, and he did it.

Dear Abby,
My mother is mean and short-tempered. Do you think she is going through her mental pause?

Dear Abby,
You told some woman whose husband had lost all interest in sex to send him to a doctor. Well, my husband lost all interest in sex years ago and he IS a doctor. What now?  
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What Happens When Dreams Are Lost


I was born and grew up in a Communist country, and I am as aware as anyone, and more so than most, of the falseness of the Party propaganda regarding the supposed equality given all workers in the Communist State. I am no Communist. Having lived in the USA since the late 1950’s, I have also witnessed the excesses of unfettered capitalism in our country. With the decline of the power and influence of labor unions (brought about in no small part by their own corruption and greed), the globalization of manufacturing around the world, and tax changes allowing the progressive concentration of wealth among a diminishingly small number of people, we are rapidly developing our own oligarchies along with all their excesses.

Companies no longer feel there is any loyalty due to their employees whose work has contributed to the success of the organization. As power has shifted more and more to management, employees no longer have any freedom in questioning the decisions made by their superiors without fear of reprisals and unemployment. Being a “good corporate citizen” has become a cynical marketing tool of the PR department, and even the term “Human Resource” carries an Orwellian feeling of Soylent Green, where employees are viewed as fodder for the feeding of the machine, rather than as people requiring dignity and respect. There are a few exceptions, but most of those occur among family run businesses where the values of the founder have prevailed overriding desire to create greater and greater profit, even if it is at the expense of those toiling to make the organization thrive. CEO compensation is very high relative to typical worker compensation by a ratio of 278-1 in 2019. In contrast the CEO- to-typical-worker compensation ratio (options realized) was 20-1 in 1965 and 58-1 in 1989. In addition, CEO’s are making a lot more – about five times as much – as other earners in the top 0.1%. (Economic Policy Institute Report, August 14, 2019.) CEO’s are making more because of their power to set pay, not because they are increasing productivity or possess specific, high demand skills. There has developed an inbred industry of compensation consultants providing data to compensation committees made up of people whose own salaries in their respective companies use the same consultant groups.

When I moved to the States, most people if they worked hard and saved their money could eventually afford their own home, a car to drive, and the ability to offer their children a reasonable education. That dream of that opportunity has been shattered for many, which in part drives some of the social unrest we see. The rest is being fueled by a sense of both racial and economic injustice. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people willing to harness the growing disillusion with existing social and political institutions in order to gain power for themselves, and advance their own forms of tyranny.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to own our own homes, and through our own hard work have managed to save enough money that we can look forward to eventual retirement may not feel like we are one of the rich and the elite, but in the eyes of the less well off, we are still so categorized. For many, in exchange for the illusion of permanence a house provides, means having to plug away at a job which may not satisfy the soul. More insidiously, when we look at our accomplishments, many of us believe that they are as much the result of the good luck to having been born to particular parents who guided us along lines of education and values than as the sole result of our own hard work.

I know too many people who are working fulltime yet not making enough money to be able to afford their own apartment, much less enough to save for a place of their own. Too many of the jobs in the gig economy come without any benefits. And too many people who think they have health insurance come to discover that they have higher deductibles than what’s in their meager savings.

Money has a quietly corrupting power. Psychologists have found that it’s not money per se, but “the independence, the insularity, the security, the illusion of not needing other people” that money affords that can lead rich people to “prioritize their own self-interests and rationalize their good fortune.” (WSJ, 9/11/20 Emily Bobrow)

Like it or not, social and economic injustice impacts us all, and if we don’t recognize and take action to correct what is wrong, the correction will eventually come, and will happen with violence, repression, and ill outcomes for all.

Posted in America, Communism, Honor, Lies, News and politics, Politics, Revolution, Thoughts & Musings, Unions | Tagged , | 6 Comments